[Written by Mohamed Jehad. First published in 2010.]
One time someone asked Bruce Lee about the importance of the black belt.
The actor and kung fu master replied that it is nothing more than a strip of cloth to hold your pants up.
Nearly three decades on, we can now see that Lee was wrong.
The belt is much more than a strip of cloth, much more than a clothing accessory for fighters. At least in the Jiu-Jitsu world, the color of the belt represents the conquests and individual tale of the one wearing it. It’s sad to see that sometimes it ends up being a money-making tool in the hands of hacks.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a bevy of practitioners promoted without the slightest criteria, mainly outside Brazil. The farther people are from Jiu-Jitsu’s roots, the more discrepancies there are as to promotion.
There are people promoting others without the least respect for our sport’s history, our fight, our way of life. We should take into consideration each person’s evolutionary process, not just in terms of technique, but also in soul and character. What’s the point of having an excellent black belt if he forgets the moral principles that guide Jiu-Jitsu?
Of course, we can’t demand a high level of technique from a practitioner who only can manage a few hours a week for training, as they have to go to work – that’s why, perhaps, there’s such a great number of competent doctors, pilots, policemen, lawyers, and so many other professionals who represent Jiu-Jitsu with dignity, many of them black belts.
However, it is the obligation of us all to keep tabs on the procedures of academies and associations, under the penalty of our sport taking a shot to the foot.
The criteria need to be universal, and respected. There needs to be a global standard, a well-structured test so that we do not become hostage to our own luck.
The belt surely doesn’t serve only to hold up one’s pants: it should be stamped in your Jiu-Jitsu’s DNA.